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Museum Musings: Christmas cooking in Whistler

A trio of local cookbooks can tell us much about Whistler’s past.
The excitement was high at the opening of the Black Forest Restaurant in 1984. Chef Herb Neiman’s recipe for Black Forest Chicken-Hunter Style was included in The Whistler Weekend Cookbook.

While food may not be the first thing many people associate with the Whistler Museum, the abundance of baking and celebratory meals this time of year recently had us looking at three cookbooks kept as part of the Museum’s reference section. Whistler Recipes, Festive Favourites, and The Whistler Weekend Cookbook all contain recipes, as expected, but they can also tell us about what businesses were operating in Whistler, who was working in the valley, and what was being eaten at the time of their publication.

Whistler Recipes is the first of two cookbooks published as fundraisers by the Whistler Museum & Archives Society’s Cookbook Committee. Published in 1997, it includes recipes gathered from past and then-present residents of Whistler and Alta Lake, as well as a few recipes from a cookbook published by The Vancouver Sun in 1940. Whistler Recipes included recipes like Yorkshire Puddings from Ann Bright, Myrtle’s Muffins from Myrtle Philip, Granny Cosgrave’s Scones from J’Anne Greenwood, and Lemon Loaves from Elaine Wallace, which we even tried making when the museum was closed in 2020.

The second book published by the Cookbook Committee in 2001, Festive Favourites, tells us less about the individuals who contributed recipes, but makes up for it by including food trivia and tips throughout. Many of the recipes and festive tips appear to focus on the December holiday season—with instructions for preparing The Scent of Christmas, Spiced Yule Cake, and more alongside a short history of Christmas trees and stockings—though there are also some recipes for other holidays, such as Halloween Spicy Hot Chocolate.

Festive Favourites also suggested different ways to share meals with friends, proposing a “dine -around party,” which is “great for a small group of friends who live close together” as the group walks over to a different residence for each stage of the meal, and provided ideas for entertaining and involving children for “when adults and children party together.”

For anyone interested in the history of restaurants in Whistler, The Whistler Weekend Cookbook compiled by Diane Nicholson in 1987 is a very useful resource. It begins with a list of all restaurants and delicatessens in Whistler at the time, of which seven are still operating under the same name today. For every recipe contributed by a chef at one of the restaurants, their name and place of work are credited. For example, Rolf Gunther of the Rimrock Café supplied his version of Mahi Mahi with Bourbon Pecan Cream while Toshi Saito of Sushi Village provided his Tempura Toshi.

It is made clear by book’s section names, such as “Mid-day & Apres Ski” and “Goodies & Supplies for Your Pack etc.,” that it caters to a population that spends quite a bit of time on the mountain. Each recipe is also accompanied by a difficulty rating in the form of a circle, a square, or a diamond—symbols that could easily be interpreted by most skiers.

The recipes and their contributors also reflect the prevalence of sports in Whistler. Dave Murray provided instructions to make his Breakfast of Champions (oatmeal with nuts and apple), while Leanna Rath and Richard Kelly of Lifestyles Adventure Company included their Mountain Bike Greek Salad, and Rob Boyd supplied his recipe for World Cup Granola Bars (cooking must be a family affair, as his mother Molly Boyd’s Sunshine Pie can also be found in the book).

Like the cookbooks published by the Cookbook Committee, The Whistler Weekend Cookbook was also a fundraiser, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Whistler Public Library to purchase new-age/self-help books. Today, the books produced for such fundraisers can tell us more about the people and food in Whistler at that particular time. They can also be very helpful if you’re trying to recreate a meal you once had at your favourite restaurant, whether you miss the Southside Hot Antipasto Hero from the Southside Deli or the wings you used to get at Dusty’s.